An image of the inside of an apartment

A compact space, walls I would surely have to repaint, outdated cabinets and flooring I still hate—it all looked like magic when I walked through the door of my first apartment because it was mine. It was a long-awaited dream to have a space that I could really make my own, and my roommate and I had the joy of assembling it together.

We painted the bathroom pink. We got (removable) floral wallpaper. We repurposed old furniture and scoured peddler’s malls and bought a lot of plants. It is a tiny home, but it is cherished and blessed with community, cozy mornings and movie nights.

The homes we inhabit can have such an impact on our inner world. We grow up in borrowed spaces. From a childhood bedroom to a college dorm, there is unmatched comfort and settledness in graduating to a place that feels more like yours.

There is an unmatched comfort and settledness in graduating to a place that feels more like yours.

Regardless of whether our budgets allow for the newest and most beautiful furniture or a hodge-podge of hand-me-downs, designing our first space is an act of creativity and independence. The goal is not for perfection, but for rooms that will reflect who we are and to create a sense of home along the way.

Customize

When you’re working with a rented apartment, your options will vary as to how much you can change. So whatever you can do to customize your space, do it.

Whatever you can do to customize your space, do it.

Paint the walls. Remove kitchen cabinet doors for an open shelving look. Put extra shelves in closets. Change out closet handles or lighting. Add an accent wall with some removable wallpaper. These elements may be small, but they go a long way in customizing a borrowed space, and it’s an easy way to make it yours.

Simplify

This may be an inevitability if your apartment is compact, but less really is more. Simplifying not only how much you bring into your space but also decor is freeing. Eliminating clutter as much as possible means your space will embody what you love most and bring clarity to your design.

Find creative ways to keep things off counters and minimize unnecessary knick-knacks. You will probably add more touches as time goes on, but starting with a simpler canvas expands and lightens a small space.

Maximize

Organization and smart design makes all the difference in a tight apartment. Getting bins to keep everything contained and adding wire shelves in closets are simple ways to maximize functionality. When possible, opt for multi-purpose options that add storage as well as style. You can also employ simple design elements that expand the space, such as ceiling-to-floor curtains, light color schemes, breezy fabrics and mirrors.

Reclaim

Buying used or vintage will be your friend if you’re on a budget, but it can also be the best (and most cost-effective) way to find statement pieces. Antique or vintage shops, peddler’s malls or even local online marketplaces are great ways to find inexpensive and unique items. Antique mirrors, interesting coffee tables, retro chairs. If you’re willing to repaint, then that will also open your possibilities to having custom pieces that best reflect your aesthetic.

Buying used or vintage will be your friend if you’re on a budget.

Our deepest rest and the truest version of ourselves exist in whatever place we call “home.” So let finding home be a creative outlet and a joy. Let it be a space you are excited to invite community into. Whether it’s your first apartment or a house you built, expertly designed or strewn together, our homes always have the opportunity to be our haven. Make it yours.

Do you remember what it was like to decorate your first apartment? What are some go-to interior design tricks?

Image via Daniel Collopy, Darling Issue No. 7

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